Proteases and protease inhibitors: a balance of activities in host-pathogen interaction

Immunobiology. 2006;211(4):263-81. doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2006.01.002. Epub 2006 Apr 18.


The immune system is the collection of effector molecules and cells of the host that act against invading parasites and their products. Secreted proteases serve important roles in parasitic metabolism and virulence and the several families of protein protease inhibitors of the plasma and blood cells play an important role in immunity by inactivating and clearing the protease virulence factors of parasites. The protease inhibitors are of two classes, the active-site inhibitors and the alpha2-macroglobulins. Inhibitors for the first class bind and inactivate the active site of the target protease. Proteins of the second class bind proteases by a unique molecular trap mechanism and deliver the bound protease to a receptor-mediated endocytic system for degradation in secondary lysosomes. Proteins of the alpha2-macroglobulin family are present in a variety of animal phyla, including the nematodes, arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, urochordates, and vertebrates. A shared suite of unique functional characteristics have been documented for the alpha2-macroglobulins of vertebrates, arthropods, and mollusks. The alpha2-macroglobulins of nematodes, arthropods, mollusks, and vertebrates show significant sequence identity in key functional domains. Thus, the alpha2-macroglobulins comprise an evolutionarily conserved arm of the innate immune system with similar structure and function in animal phyla separated by 0.6 billion years of evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Horseshoe Crabs / enzymology*
  • Horseshoe Crabs / immunology*
  • Horseshoe Crabs / microbiology
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Peptide Hydrolases / physiology*
  • Protease Inhibitors / classification
  • Protease Inhibitors / metabolism*


  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Peptide Hydrolases